• PumpYouUp “Christmas Nutcracker Dubstep & Techno Classics” (PumpYouUp) * * *
Maybe it’s because there’s such a flood of more conventional holiday releases year in and year out that this throbbing electronica workout sounds so refreshing. Blatting low frequency bursts counter shimmering high-end sounds in a generous chunk of the Tchaikovsky seasonal war horse plus a handful of classic carols and random classical-music staples.
• Various Artists “Now That’s What I Call Today’s Christmas” (Universal/ EMI/ Sony) * * 1/2
“Today” is a relative term here — the oldest of the 18 tracks is 16 years old (Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Eve/ Sarajevo 12/24), and Christina Aguilera’s Christmas Time dates to 2000. But most of the acts, also including Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepson, Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Carrie Underwood, still have currency in today’s music world. The originals — Train’s pumping Shake Up Christmas, Coldplay’s wistful Christmas Lights — generate more interest than most of the covers.
• Redtenbacher’s Funkestra “A Very Funky Christmas” (Wooden Hat) * * *
This five-song EP is just the thing to brighten up any staid holiday gathering. These instrumentals percolate with Latin jazz-funk, bringing big-band juice and rhythmic punch to four yuletide classics and one original, the title track.
• Blake Shelton “Cheers, It’s Christmas” (Warner Bros.) * * 1/2
Now that Shelton’s a TV star on NBC’s The Voice and half of a high-profile marriage (to Miranda Lambert, who helps him swing his way through Jingle Bell Rock), he’s got a lot of constituencies to please. He sounds straitjacketed on White Christmas and Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, but he’s at home on the range trading verses with Reba McEntire on Oklahoma Christmas and with his own rollicking Santa’s Got a Choo Choo Train. Other guests include Michael Buble, Kelly Clarkson, Pistol Annies, Trypta-Phunk and Shelton’s mom, Dorothy Shackleford.
• Rod Stewart “Merry Christmas, Baby” (Verve) * *
The dubious latter-day keeper of the Great American Songbook flame applies his raspy vocal cords to the canon of classic holiday music. He’s no Bennett, and this is a long way from Gasoline Alley, making the tracks with a rhythmic pulse (especially Red-Suited Super Man, with Trombone Shorty) better suited to his rocker’s swagger than those demanding interpretive nuance.
• Tracey Thorn “Tinsel and Lights” (Merge) * * * 1/2
The former Everything But the Girl singer and songwriter has reached well beyond the usual bounds for an especially imaginative playlist of songs from Randy Newman, Stephin Merritt, Jack White, Joni Mitchell, Ron Sexsmith, Green Gartside, Sufjan Stevens and a pair of deft Thorn originals. A holiday collection for the thinking — and feeling — pop music aficionado.
• Brooke White “White Christmas” (June Baby) * * *
American Idol hasn’t been a breeding ground for singers with original vision, which is probably why this L.A.-based singer-songwriter made it only as far as fifth place on the show’s seventh season. But she exhibits a real flair for injecting new ideas into ultra-familiar music, and adds three tunes of her own to further stir the pot. A nice surprise for Idol and non- Idol obsessives.